Family Planning in the Philippines

Article three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says,  “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  There  are many different ways to ensure personal safety and liberty, but for  the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the relationship between this  article of the UDHR and access to contraceptives.  Over the past forty  years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people using  contraceptives.  However, “Use of contraceptives remains uneven.    Women in wealthy countries and urban areas generally have the best  access to contraceptive services” (Seager 36).  Having access to  contraceptive is something that we may take for granted, especially at a  school where contraceptive is easily accessible and different forms of  contraceptive are given to students free of charge.

Now, in the Philippines, men and women are fighting “against what    they say is a ban on contraception.”   Many people believe that this    enforced natural planning method violates their constitutional “right to  plan a family in accordance with their beliefs” (Fogarty 3).  Approximately eighty percent of the people living in the Philippines are  Roman Catholic, therefore the Roman Catholic Church has a lot of  influence on the government and ultimately the lives of the people.  The Roman Catholic Church supports only natural methods of family planning and considers using modern contraceptives to be a sin.  “Abortion is banned and President Gloria Arroyo openly backs the  Church’s anti-contraception stance” (Fogarty 2) Instead of supporting  modern methods of contraceptive, such as condoms and birth control,  Arroyo suggests “‘natural’ family planning – a less reliable method  which involves couples not having sex when the women is at her most  fertile” (Fogarty 2)  Of course abstaining from sex is the best way to  prevent unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, but  Arroyo’s argument is not very logical.  The traditional methods of contraception which she argues for include “folk remedies, herbal  remedies, rhythm, withdrawal, and planned abstinence” (Seager 37).    Interestingly enough, Arroyo recognizes the benefits of modern methods of family planning.  However, she says the government will not support anything that is not considered “acceptable by the Catholic Church” (Harden 1).

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: President of the Philippines

In my opinion, taking this stance and forcing it upon others is a complete violation of human rights.  Arroyo is entitled to have her own opinion but she is not allowing others to make decisions for themselves.  “Public opinion surveys in recent years have consistently found that about 90 percent of respondents supported government funding of contraceptives for people who cannot afford them” (Harden 2). As human beings, we have the right to autonomy over our bodies and our sexualities.  Arroyo’s stance on contraceptives is problematic for two reasons: modern contraceptives are much more effective and the government should not be able to dictate when and why people have sex.  Basic freedoms are stripped away in this situation.  The alternative methods that Arroyo suggests are ineffective and put people of risk of contracting STDs and/or HIV/AIDS.

As I have mentioned in numerous posts (abortion, sex education, etc.), the lines between church and state are often blurred.  This, in and of itself, is a huge problem.  It is not fair, or right, to impose a certain set of beliefs on a heterogenous group of people, especially when it puts their health and well-being at risk.  In this case, men and women from the Philippines are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.  Women are much more likely to get pregnant, therefore leading to an increase in unintended/unwanted pregnancy.  In the Philippines, abortion is considered a criminal offense, even to save the mother’s life.  Because women are not able to seek abortions safely or legally, they are forced to either continue their (potentially deadly) pregnancy or seek an illegal abortion.  If the women choose the later, they (and their health care provider) can be sentenced to prison for up to six years.  According to a study conducted in 2006, one third (or approximately 473,000) of all unwanted pregnancies ended in abortion.  Of those women who chose to have abortions, eighty percent of them had complications. (To learn more about abortion in the Philippines, click here.  If the woman decides to give birth to the child, it adds a great expense onto the family: additional food, healthcare, education, transportation, etc.  In a country where poverty is so rampant, it seems illogical to encourage people to act in a way that would increase poverty.  It is crucial that the government in the Philippines realizes what an injustice is being done to the people and that change needs to be brought about immediately.  Of all the women of child-bearing age, approximately one-third use modern forms of contraceptive.  Of course this does not mean that the other women are simply abstaining; it means they are engaging in high-risk sexual activity.

Although contraceptives can be accessed in the country, they are too expensive for most families to afford.  They used to be provided for free in health centers, but most of these organizations close down.  Health workers in hospitals have refused to perform sterilization operations and most “health workers stopped providing any information whatsoever on contraception” (Fogarty 3).  In order to access modern contraceptives in this country, you need to have the money to transport yourself to a facility and pay for the contraceptives yourself.  This is very problematic because only wealthy families are able to afford them.  Those that need contraceptives the most (the poor) are unable to access/afford them.

The government does not spend any federal money on providing contraceptives and foreign aid (in the form of contraceptives) is lacking.  Local governments are also poor, therefore they cannot help those outside of their country.  The United States was funding a contraceptive-commodities program in the Philippines, but it ended in 2008.  (However, USAID does support international contraceptive distribution which helps many countries around the world.)  This disproportionately affects low-income families, who wind up having more children than they had planned or put themselves, specifically women, at risk of complications associated with illegal abortion.  If they choose to give birth, they are then forced to raise children into poverty and further perpetuate an endless cycle.  Even if the men and women practice these natural methods, there is no way to ensure that they will not get pregnant or contract diseases.  These methods are not effective and are based on false logic.  As I argued in my last post, people have the right to be informed about their sexuality.  What they are currently being told is completely biased and they deserve to be given all of their options, especially if it will protect their health.  Even for those people that can afford and access contraceptives, they are not given information on how to use them properly.  This goes back to my last blog post about sex education.  I believe that an accurate sex education and access to different methods of effective contraceptives are human rights, but one cannot come without the other.  The Philippines is the target of a great deal of international pressure, especially because this policy goes against “several international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory” (Fogarty 3).  Although bills have been pushed in the Parliament which support reproductive rights, none have passed into law.  These bills have received great support nationally, but ultimately it is up to the Catholic Church to make that decision.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mohammed Adawulai
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 10:15:12

    very thoughtful and well put. i really liked the video, and for the sake of their health,and their children’s well-being, sex education must be made available alongside easing access to contraceptives.


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